How do you explain project controls to the uninitiated?
To manage any project well, you need to strike the right balance between three variables - cost, scope and schedule. When these factors get out of balance, things can go wrong – project timelines get extended, budgets blow out, and scope creeps.
Project controls is a methodology and a process for effective project/program management. It encompasses the people, procedures and tools needed to plan, monitor and manage your variables through every phase of your project’s lifecycle – from beginning to end.
As project controls specialists, we provide a service to the project manager or project management office (PMO). We interact with contractors, engineers and clients – but when it comes to working out how to best set up a project and manage the cost or risk elements associated with it – that’s where we really get involved.
We not only provide advice, but also digital tools like myProjects, Primavera ERP/SAP, @Risk, Aconex and Power Bi etc to support people in balancing those three variables, and ultimately deliver everything according to plan. Often we will develop interactive dashboards that provide PMO personnel with a visual overview and detailed information about their portfolio and the status of their projects.
Project controls is not a one size fits all. We figure out where gaps could lead to problems and set things up so issues are less likely to occur. We develop a customised management strategy that’s specific to the project, client, contract type and delivery environment.
The focus on project controls seems to be growing, but where did it start?
Project controls as a separate, standalone discipline (linked to but distinct from project management in the broader sense) – originally started in the oil and gas industry. It was later adopted in the mining sector.
The scale of work happening in those industries – say the development of a new oil and gas refinery – requires such a huge volume of procurement for parts and components. Procurement itself is a huge management challenge and if you don’t stay on top of that, then your entire timeline gets delayed, and your costs go up which affects investment decisions.
There’s a lot of detailed analysis and planning required to understand when components are available, and when they need to go for construction and operational maintenance etc. These industries were quick to recognise the value in specific people and tools to manage the processes of engineering, procurement, and construction.
We are now seeing a lot of infrastructure projects – rail and road initiatives especially – adopting project controls principles. They’ve also got complex processes in terms of scheduling, from land development to environmental clearance, community engagement and construction, so infrastructure project owners and teams are seeing the value in project controls as a service.